The Air Force Creates an Alternative Fuel Source

The Air Force relies heavily on fossil fuels to meet energy needs for its ground vehicles and equipment. Transport of the fuel to forward operating bases is costly and poses a safety risk to those involved.

Additionally, methods to reduce waste and create energy onsite need to be explored.

The F-T reactor system produces synthetic liquid diesel fuel for Air Force equipment. (Photo provided by the Air Force Research Laboratory/Released)

The F-T reactor system produces synthetic
liquid diesel fuel for Air Force equipment. (Photo provided by the Air Force Research Laboratory/Released)

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Advanced Power Technology Office (APTO) is assuring fuel supply and reducing waste by developing a mobile alternative energy system that creates liquid diesel fuel from synthetic gas (syngas) that can be used at forward operating bases.

APTO utilized a company with extensive experience in the Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) synthesis process. In this application, syngas is passed through a sealed reactor vessel over copper condenser tubes that are coated with a cobalt catalyst.

Applying proper heat in the reactor causes a chemical reaction that results in synthetic diesel fuel. The fuel can be used in ground vehicles or diesel generators to create electricity for base operations.

The initial demonstration system, contained in a steel-framed skid for portabililty, produced less than one barrel of fuel per day. Further system refinements could increase the output, with the capability to improve to 10 barrels.

Test results showed that the created fuel successfully operated a 20kW diesel generator.  Additional studies resulted in recommendations for processing, storage, and transportability to expand the fuel’s suitability for other Air Force uses.

The team created its own syngas supply through a methanol dissociation process, but APTO has other ongoing efforts to supply syngas through Waste to Energy systems that use biomass or municipal solid waste to create syngas.

Addresses priorities of the Air Force Energy Strategic Plan 2013:

  • Improves resiliency by mitigating likelihood of disrupted energy supplies that would impede operations
  • Assures supply by increasing the use of alternative fuels in ground vehicles and equipment

Additionally, implementation can:

  • Reduce energy from fossil fuel in deployed operations
  • Reduce base waste through using it as a source of alternative energy
  • Increase energy and physical security by reducing logistical supply operations and minimizing foreign national and host nation access to bases

Story and information provided by the Air Force Research Laboratory
Materials and Manufacturing Directorate

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